Terrestrial ecosystem

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A terrestrial ecosystem is a type of ecosystem found only on biomes. Seven primary terrestrial ecosystems exist: tundra, taiga, temperate deciduous forest, tropical rain forest, grassland , deserts

Ecosystem A community of living organisms together with the nonliving components of their environment

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the system through photosynthesis and is incorporated into plant tissue. By feeding on plants and on one-another, animals play an important role in the movement of matter and energy through the system. They also influence the quantity of plant and microbial biomass present. By breaking down dead organic matter, decomposers release carbon back to the atmosphere and facilitate nutrient cycling by converting nutrients stored in dead biomass back to a form that can be readily used by plants and other microbes.

Tundra biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons

In physical geography, tundra is a type of biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра from the Kildin Sami word тӯндар meaning "uplands", "treeless mountain tract". Tundra vegetation is composed of dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and lichens. Scattered trees grow in some tundra regions. The ecotone between the tundra and the forest is known as the tree line or timberline.

Taiga biome characterized by coniferous forests

Taiga, also known as boreal forest or snow forest, is a biome characterized by coniferous forests consisting mostly of pines, spruces, and larches.


A community of organisms and their environment that occurs on the land masses of continents and islands. Terrestrial ecosystems are distinguished from aquatic ecosystems by the lower availability of water and the consequent importance of water as a limiting factor. Terrestrial ecosystems are characterized by greater temperature fluctuations on both a diurnal and seasonal basis than occur in aquatic ecosystems in similar climates. The availability of light is greater in terrestrial ecosystems than in aquatic ecosystems because the atmosphere is more transparent in land than in water. Gases are more available in terrestrial ecosystems than in aquatic ecosystems. Those gases include carbon dioxide that serves as a substrate for photosynthesis, oxygen that serves as a substrate in aerobic respiration, and nitrogen that serves as a substrate for nitrogen fixation. Terrestrial environments are segmented into a subterranean portion from which most water and ions are obtained, and an atmospheric portion from which gases are obtained and where the physical energy of light is transformed into the organic energy of carbon-carbon bonds through the process of photosynthesis.

Aquatic ecosystem An ecosystem in a body of water

An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem in a body of water. Communities of organisms that are dependent on each other and on their environment live in aquatic ecosystems. The two main types of aquatic ecosystems are marine ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems.

Diurnal temperature variation diurnal temperature variation is the variation between a high temperature and a low temperature that occurs during the same day

In meteorology, diurnal temperature variation is the variation between a high temperature and a low temperature that occurs during the same day.

Size and plants

Terrestrial ecosystems occupy 55,660,000 mi² (144,150,000 km²), or 28.26% of Earth's surface. Although they are comparatively recent in the history of life (the first terrestrial organisms appeared in the Alchi period, about 425 million years ago) and occupy a much smaller portion of Earth's surface than marine ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems have been a major site of adaptive radiation of both plants and animals. Major plant taxa in terrestrial ecosystems are members of the division Magnoliophyta (flowering plants), of which there are about 275,000 species, and the division Pinophyta (conifers), of which there are about 500 species. Members of the division Bryophyta (mosses and liverworts), of which there are about 24,000 species, are also important in some terrestrial ecosystems. Major animal taxa in terrestrial ecosystems include the classes Insecta (insects) with about 900,000 species, Aves (birds) with 8,500 species, and Mammalia (mammals) with approximately 4,100 species.[ citation needed ]

Adaptive radiation A process in which organisms diversify rapidly from an ancestral species into a multitude of new forms

In evolutionary biology, adaptive radiation is a process in which organisms diversify rapidly from an ancestral species into a multitude of new forms, particularly when a change in the environment makes new resources available, creates new challenges, or opens new environmental niches. Starting with a recent single ancestor, this process results in the speciation and phenotypic adaptation of an array of species exhibiting different morphological and physiological traits. The prototypical example of adaptive radiation is finch speciation on the Galapagos, but examples are known from around the world.

Plant taxonomy is the science that finds, identifies, describes, classifies, and names plants. Thus making it one of the main branches of taxonomy.

Pinophyta division of plants

The Pinophyta, also known as Coniferophyta or Coniferae, or commonly as conifers, are a division of vascular land plants containing a single extant class, Pinopsida. They are gymnosperms, cone-bearing seed plants. All extant conifers are perennial woody plants with secondary growth. The great majority are trees, though a few are shrubs. Examples include cedars, Douglas firs, cypresses, firs, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces, and yews. As of 1998, the division Pinophyta was estimated to contain eight families, 68 genera, and 629 living species.


Organisms in terrestrial ecosystems have adaptations that allow them to obtain water when the entire body is no longer bathed in that fluid, means of transporting the water from limited sites of acquisition to the rest of the body, and means of preventing the evaporation of water from body surfaces. They also have traits that provide body support in the atmosphere, a much less buoyant medium than water, and other traits that render them capable of withstanding the extremes of temperature, wind, and humidity that characterize terrestrial ecosystems. Finally, the organisms in terrestrial ecosystems have evolved many methods of transporting gametes in environments where fluid flow is much less effective as a transport medium.[ citation needed ]

The organisms in terrestrial ecosystems are integrated into a functional unit by specific, dynamic relationships due to the coupled processes of energy and chemical flow. Those relationships can be summarized by schematic diagrams of trophic webs, which place organisms according to their feeding relationships. The base of the food web is occupied by green plants, which are the only organisms capable of utilizing the energy of the Sun and inorganic nutrients obtained from the soil to produce organic molecules. Terrestrial food webs can be broken into two segments based on the status of the plant material that enters them. Grazing food webs are associated with the consumption of living plant material by herbivores. Detritus food webs are associated with the consumption of dead plant material by detritivores. The relative importance of those two types of food webs varies considerably in different types of terrestrial ecosystems. Grazing food webs are more important in grasslands, where over half of net primary productivity may be consumed by herbivores. Detritus food webs are more important in forests, where less than 5% of net primary productivity may be consumed by herbivores.[ citation needed ]

Food web A natural interconnection of food chains

A food web is a natural interconnection of food chains and a graphical representation of what-eats-what in an ecological community. Another name for food web is consumer-resource system. Ecologists can broadly lump all life forms into one of two categories called trophic levels: 1) the autotrophs, and 2) the heterotrophs. To maintain their bodies, grow, develop, and to reproduce, autotrophs produce organic matter from inorganic substances, including both minerals and gases such as carbon dioxide. These chemical reactions require energy, which mainly comes from the Sun and largely by photosynthesis, although a very small amount comes from hydrothermal vents and hot springs. A gradient exists between trophic levels running from complete autotrophs that obtain their sole source of carbon from the atmosphere, to mixotrophs that are autotrophic organisms that partially obtain organic matter from sources other than the atmosphere, and complete heterotrophs that must feed to obtain organic matter. The linkages in a food web illustrate the feeding pathways, such as where heterotrophs obtain organic matter by feeding on autotrophs and other heterotrophs. The food web is a simplified illustration of the various methods of feeding that links an ecosystem into a unified system of exchange. There are different kinds of feeding relations that can be roughly divided into herbivory, carnivory, scavenging and parasitism. Some of the organic matter eaten by heterotrophs, such as sugars, provides energy. Autotrophs and heterotrophs come in all sizes, from microscopic to many tonnes - from cyanobacteria to giant redwoods, and from viruses and bdellovibrio to blue whales.


There is one type of extensive terrestrial ecosystem due solely to human activities and eight types that are natural ecosystems. Those natural ecosystems reflect the variation of precipitation and temperature over Earth's surface. The smallest land areas are occupied by tundra and temperate grassland ecosystems, and the largest land area is occupied by tropical forest. The most productive ecosystems are temperate and tropical forests, and the least productive are deserts and tundras.

Cultivated lands, which together with grasslands and savannas utilized for grazing are referred to as agroecosystems, are of intermediate extent and productivity. Because of both their areal extent and their high average productivity, tropical forests are the most productive of all terrestrial ecosystems, contributing 45% of total estimated net primary productivity on land.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Biome Distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate

A biome is a community of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment they exist in. They can be found over a range of continents. Biomes are distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate. "Biome" is a broader term than "habitat"; any biome can comprise a variety of habitats.

Epiphyte non-parasitic plant that grows upon another plant but is not nourished by it

An epiphyte is an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, water or from debris accumulating around it. Epiphytes take part in nutrient cycles and add to both the diversity and biomass of the ecosystem in which they occur like any other organism. They are an important source of food for many species. Typically, the older parts of a plant will have more epiphytes growing on them. Epiphytes differ from parasites in that epiphytes grow on other plants for physical support and do not necessarily negatively affect the host. An epiphytic organism that is not a plant is sometimes called an epibiont. Epiphytes are usually found in the temperate zone or in the tropics. Epiphyte species make good houseplants due to their minimal water and soil requirements. Epiphytes provide a rich and diverse habitat for other organisms including animals, fungi, bacteria, and myxomycetes.

Grassland areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae)

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae); however, sedge (Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found along with variable proportions of legumes, like clover, and other herbs. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica. Grasslands are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. For example, there are five terrestrial ecoregion classifications (subdivisions) of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome (ecosystem), which is one of eight terrestrial ecozones of the Earth's surface.

Primary production The synthesis of organic compounds from carbon dioxide by biological organisms

In ecology, primary production is the synthesis of organic compounds from atmospheric or aqueous carbon dioxide. It principally occurs through the process of photosynthesis, which uses light as its source of energy, but it also occurs through chemosynthesis, which uses the oxidation or reduction of inorganic chemical compounds as its source of energy. Almost all life on Earth relies directly or indirectly on primary production. The organisms responsible for primary production are known as primary producers or autotrophs, and form the base of the food chain. In terrestrial ecoregions, these are mainly plants, while in aquatic ecoregions algae predominate in this role. Ecologists distinguish primary production as either net or gross, the former accounting for losses to processes such as cellular respiration, the latter not.

This glossary of ecology is a list of definitions of terms and topics in ecology and related fields. For more specific definitions from other glossaries related to ecology, see Glossary of biology and Glossary of environmental science.

Grazing method of feeding in which a herbivore eats parts of low-growing grasses, forbs or algae

Grazing is a method of feeding in which a herbivore feeds on plants such as grasses, or other multicellular organisms such as algae. In agriculture, grazing is one method used whereby domestic livestock are used to convert grass and other forage into meat, milk and other products.

Rangeland open grazing land

Rangelands are grasslands, shrublands, woodlands, wetlands, and deserts that are grazed by domestic livestock or wild animals. Types of rangelands include tallgrass and shortgrass prairies, desert grasslands and shrublands, woodlands, savannas, chaparrals, steppes, and tundras. Rangelands do not include forests lacking grazable understory vegetation, barren desert, farmland, or land covered by solid rock, concrete and/or glaciers.

Kelp forest

Kelp forests are underwater areas with a high density of kelp. They are recognized as one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystems on Earth. Smaller areas of anchored kelp are called kelp beds.

Soil food web

The soil food web is the community of organisms living all or part of their lives in the soil. It describes a complex living system in the soil and how it interacts with the environment, plants, and animals.

Ecosystem ecology The study of living and non-living components of ecosystems and their interactions

Ecosystem ecology is the integrated study of living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of ecosystems and their interactions within an ecosystem framework. This science examines how ecosystems work and relates this to their components such as chemicals, bedrock, soil, plants, and animals.

Detritus Dead particulate organic material

In biology, detritus is dead particulate organic material. It typically includes the bodies or fragments of dead organisms as well as fecal material. Detritus is typically colonized by communities of microorganisms which act to decompose the material. In terrestrial ecosystems, it is encountered as leaf litter and other organic matter intermixed with soil, which is denominated "soil organic matter". Detritus of aquatic ecosystems is organic material suspended in water and piling up on seabed floors, which is referred to as marine snow.

River ecosystem type of aquatic ecosystem with flowing freshwater

River ecosystems are flowing waters that drain the landscape, and include the biotic (living) interactions amongst plants, animals and micro-organisms, as well as abiotic (nonliving) physical and chemical interactions of its many parts. River ecosystems are part of larger watershed networks or catchments, where smaller headwater streams drain into mid-size streams, which progressively drain into larger river networks.

A lake ecosystem includes biotic (living) plants, animals and micro-organisms, as well as abiotic (nonliving) physical and chemical interactions.

Microbial loop Mikrobial loop

The microbial loop describes a trophic pathway in the marine microbial food web where dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is returned to higher trophic levels via its incorporation into bacterial biomass, and then coupled with the classic food chain formed by phytoplankton-zooplankton-nekton. The term microbial loop was coined by Farooq Azam and Tom Fenchel et al. to include the role played by bacteria in the carbon and nutrient cycles of the marine environment.

Human impact on the nitrogen cycle

Human impact on the nitrogen cycle is diverse. Agricultural and industrial nitrogen (N) inputs to the environment currently exceed inputs from natural N fixation. As a consequence of anthropogenic inputs, the global nitrogen cycle (Fig. 1) has been significantly altered over the past century. Global atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O) mole fractions have increased from a pre-industrial value of ~270 nmol/mol to ~319 nmol/mol in 2005. Human activities account for over one-third of N2O emissions, most of which are due to the agricultural sector. This article is intended to give a brief review of the history of anthropogenic N inputs, and reported impacts of nitrogen inputs on selected terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Bacterioplankton refers to the bacterial component of the plankton that drifts in the water column. The name comes from the Ancient Greek word πλανκτος, meaning "wanderer" or "drifter", and bacterium, a Latin term coined in the 19th century by Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg. They are found in both seawater and freshwater.

Grazing pressure is defined as the number of grazing animals of a specified class per unit weight of herbage. It is well established in general usage. 

Montane ecosystems ecosystems found in mountains

Montane ecosystems refers to any ecosystem found in mountains. These ecosystems are strongly affected by climate, which gets colder as elevation increases. They are stratified according to elevation. Dense forests are common at moderate elevations. However, as the elevation increases, the climate becomes harsher, and the plant community transitions to grasslands or tundra.